Have diabetes? Here's how to stay warm and healthy this winter.
It can be a challenge to maintain a healthy lifestyle in winter. When temperatures drop and there's snow on the ground, keeping up with the healthiest choices sometimes falls far down the list of priorities. After all, it's much nicer to stay inside, snuggled up with a book and a blanket.
But for people with diabetes, staying healthy when it's cold out can be an even bigger challenge. Serious consequences can befall them if they don't know what their bodies need. Diabetes treatment and management shouldn't be put aside, even during the most frigid days and nights.
Here are a few things that people with diabetes should remember as the days get shorter and the mercury refuses to rise.
1. Get Your Flu Shot
If you are eligible to get one, you should get your flu shot as soon as it becomes available. If you have diabetes, getting the flu can make controlling your blood sugar more difficult and can trigger some nasty complications (such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome), so getting immunized is one of the most important things you can do.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccine needs at least two weeks to take full effect, so you should get vaccinated by the end of October to be ready for the disease's winter onslaught. If you don't get immunized by Halloween, don't forgo a flu shot altogether. A flu vaccination can still be beneficial well into flu season — even into January or later, the CDC says.
2. Keep Your Glucose in Range
Colder temperatures make managing blood glucose especially challenging. The chilly weather can affect your blood glucose level, the Joslin Diabetes Center says, to say nothing of the added exertion of winter sports and cravings for carbohydrates on frigid nights. Keeping your glucose in range can be tricky.
Fortunately, there's our FreeStyle Libre system — you can use the continuous glucose monitoring system to collect data on your glucose levels every minute. You can also use your smartphone to scan the FreeStyle Libre's sensor using the FreeStyle LibreLink app.1,2 Then, using the data analysis available through LibreView,3 you can see all of the glucose data that FreeStyle Libre's collected, which helps you identify trends and see how much time you've spent in your target time in glucose range.
By having this information at your fingertips, you and your diabetes care team can make any necessary changes to your diabetes treatment plan and maximize your healthy lifestyle.
3. Keep Your Hands and Feet Healthy
Speaking of fingertips, if you have a traditional glucometer that requires fingersticks, then you'll need to take special care of your fingers during the winter. The cold can make it difficult to draw a drop of blood for testing, so before you test, warm up your fingers by using hand warmers, holding a warm mug of coffee or keeping them covered in gloves or mittens.
FreeStyle Libre's sensor worn on the back of the upper arm, which can be used over 14 days, eliminates the need for fingersticks.4 You can scan the sensor as often as you'd like without worrying about lancets, test strips or whether your fingers are warm enough for a blood test. You can even scan the sensor over some clothes5 fewer than 4 millimeters — so you'll have to remove your puffy jacket, but not the T-shirt you have on underneath.
It's important to carefully monitor your feet and toes, too, as you wear heavy winter socks and boots and spend hours out in the snow. According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral neuropathy in the feet decreases sensation in the feet and toes, leaving you insensitive to temperature changes and susceptible to gangrene. Injuries to the feet and toes may cause cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, so check your feet every day, and make sure your boots and shoes fit comfortably.
4. Keep Your Supplies at the Ready
If you need insulin to manage your diabetes, you know that insulin should be stored at room temperature, away from light. The Joslin Diabetes Center encourages people with diabetes to keep their insulin at room temperature and to avoid storing it in an environment where it can freeze. In other words: Don't leave it in your car overnight. Cold weather can also damage insulin pumps and meters, so keep those inside, too.
If you rely on other items to help manage your diabetes, you should keep those close, too. Consider your emergency carbohydrate options: If juices and glucose gels freeze, they're useless until they thaw, so either keep these items at an acceptable temperature or seek an alternative.
And if you're alerted that a severe winter storm is headed your way, it's a good idea to stock up on extra supplies in case you're stuck in your home for a few days.
5. Stay Active
If you're like millions of other Americans, getting more exercise was part of your New Year's resolution. If you decide to take your fitness routine out of the gym and into the great wintry outdoors, you may be surprised to find that your glucose levels are affected more than you thought they would be.
According to the American Association of Diabetes Educators, exercising with multiple layers of clothing can increase your energy expenditure. In addition to your body attempting to maintain its temperature level, you may not be accustomed to some of the activities that you are engaging in. (How often, really, do you get to have a two-hour snowball fight with the neighbor's kids?)
So while getting exercise is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle, make sure that your glucose levels don't drop too low while you're out playing in the snow. FreeStyle Libre's trend arrow lets you know which way your glucose level is going so you can proactively make changes in your glucose management.
Even if you can't go outside, you should stay active with a set of indoor exercises. Exercise helps lowers your glucose level, the American Diabetes Association says, even if snowstorms or cold snaps keep you inside.
Living a healthy lifestyle helps you stay up even when the temperatures are down. With the right diabetes management plan, you can keep your body healthy all year round.
1The FreeStyle LibreLink app is only compatible with certain mobile devices and operating systems. Please check our compatibility guide for more information about device compatibility before using the app. Use of the LibreLinkUp app requires registration with LibreView, a service provided by Abbott and Newyu,Inc.
2The FreeStyle LibreLink app and the FreeStyle Libre 14 Day reader have similar but not identical features. Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol, when symptoms do not match system readings, when you suspect readings may be inaccurate, or when you experience symptoms that may be due to high or low blood glucose.
3LibreView and LibreLinkUp are developed, distributed and supported by Newyu, Inc. Abbott, LibreView, LibreLinkUp and related brand marks are trademarks of the Abbott Group of Companies in various jurisdictions and used with permission.
4Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol, when symptoms do not match system readings, when you suspect readings may be inaccurate, or when you experience symptoms that may be due to high or low blood glucose.
5The reader can capture data from the sensor when it is within 1 cm to 4 cm of the sensor.